We wrapped up our two days in the desert with a drive through Joshua Tree park and a short hike. When we entered the park, it was obvious we’d moved into a major tourist area. Suddenly–and for the first time on this trip, except for Sedona–there were lots of people. We’re close to the heavily populated areas of Southern California, and this is a popular spot.
We’ve also crossed a climate line; it was a shirt-sleeves day. We tucked our winter jackets away and actually turned on the air conditioning in the car for awhile this afternoon.
The 18-mile geology tour in Joshua Tree was a drive along a bumpy dirt road (we’ve done a lot of that!) through a variety of stone structures and desert landscapes. We were equipped with an information sheet to explain the numbered sites along the drive, but we managed to miss almost as many as we found. The most prominent feature were the heaps of rocks, a result of volcanic action and subsequent erosion. Some square rocks, some rounded, some more like huge gravel piles—the latter giving the impression of huge abandoned slag piles. (We’ve lived too long in a steel town!)
Also, a huge, barren expanse of desert called Pleasant Valley—a reminder that there was a time when this area received enough rainfall to support livestock and people.
Our short walk along the Hidden Valley Trail reminded us of the same thing—a valley almost completely enclosed by rock walls where once rustlers hid stolen cattle. This valley, too, was once covered with grasses adapted to the dry climate, but invasive vegetation choked out the natural grasses.
We also drove to a high overlook point that looked down on irrigated agricultural land–“reclaimed” desert”– on the left, arid desert to the right. A mixed message about the importance and the scarcity of water—and the pressure humans put on the limited supplies in this part of the world.
Two days in the desert have offered up some surprises. The colours. Mostly subtle, earthy tones sometimes turned brilliant by light that turns greys into silver and browns into magentas; the bluest skies I’ve ever seen; surprising bursts of green against otherwise barren backgrounds. This is winter. I’d love to see it in the spring.
Also, the varied topography. I imagined the desert as flat and featureless. Lawrence of Arabia, camels…I think there may be some of that a bit farther south (well, not camels) but not here. The landscape has been only slightly less dramatic than the mountains and monuments in Arizona.
And now, a day of visiting Jack’s brother, Pete and his wife, Lucy’s at their rental home near Palm Springs. They just moved in here a couple of days ago and will be here for the winter. They’re still in the process of figuring out how the appliances work and where the light switches are.
We don’t see them often, and it’s fun to be able to spend a couple of days with them. Tomorrow, we’ll see a bit of the Palm Springs area, then another day or two of travel before crossing the border into Mexico and the beginning of the final leg of this odyssey.